What Are Uterine Fibroids?

What Are Fibroids?

Fibroids are sometimes called: fibromyomas, leiomyomas or uterine myomas.
See our pictures of fibroids.

Uterine fibroids are growths that develop inside, on or within the wall of the womb (uterus). They are made up of muscle and fibrous tissue and grow larger over time if left untreated. They are not cancerous, so they won't kill you but they can cause a lot of other problems. A woman can develop one fibroid or many at the same time. They can range in size from a small seed to a large grapefruit. If they become too big, or grow in a sensitive area they can be painful and press on nearby organs. Depending on their location they can cause heavy periods as well as infertility. Fibroids can also grow in the breast, causing breast pain and swelling. This is a slightly separate condition which is called fibrocystic breast disease.

Fibroids symptoms: Sometimes fibroids can grow large enough to cause weight gain. Big tumors can weigh between 20 and 50 pounds. In fact the largest on record weighed a whopping 140 pounds (see fibroids and weight gain). The location of a fibroid is also an important indicator as to what symptoms you are likely to experience. If it located directly over the bladder you may need to pee all the time. If it is directly on top of the uterus, you might look constantly bloated. If it is inside the uterus it can cause heavy periods and difficulties becoming pregnant.

If you receive a fibroids diagnosis, treatment can range from no treatment at all to the surgical removal of the womb (hysterectomy). Once fibroids occur (and they typically start before the age of 30), they are likely to keep growing until menopause (but doctors cannot predict the rate of growth), after which they tend to disappear naturally. Unless they are causing symptoms which interfere with your life, they are likely to be left alone and just periodically monitored by ultrasound scan. If however they are very painful, or interfere with fertility, you may be offered a Uterine myomectomy or uterine artery embolization (UAE). These two surgeries remove the fibroids but leave the uterus in place. If you are older, and have finished having children you may be offered a hysterectomy procedure. For more, read our section on fibroids treatment.

Related Articles
Fibroids diet: Natural therapies for treating fibroids.
Fibroids in pregnancy: Treatment options and complications.
Do fibroids cause pain?: Persistent lower back pain or bloated tummy?
Can fibroids grow back?: Chance of recurrence of myomectomy and embolization.
Can fibroids cause weight gain? When that tummy looks permanently bloated.

Our Readers Personal Stories

I didn't have any problems getting pregnant with my fibroids, and I had 3 fibroids. I think it's crazy that doctors tell women they need to take out their uterus to treat fibroids. In so many cases, if they need to be removed, they can be removed by laparoscopy through the belly button. My sister doesn't suffer from fibroids the same way, but she gets breast fibroids at TOM. Not sure if they are linked or genetic.
Related Question: What are breast fibroids?

My sister had a fibroid the size of a grapefruit but she insisted on trying to heal herself with alternative therapies. She set about taking a whole load of Chinese medicine and weird sounding herbs in the hope it would shrink her fibroid. It didn't, it's larger than before and now she is at risk of rupturing her uterus. Fibroids can be dangerous if you don't get them treated.

I was being killed slowly with heavy periods, suffered really bad anemia and went through 2 boxes of super plus tampons during a period. And my womb was swollen to the size of cantaloupe. I ended up getting embolization when I was 30. I stayed in hospital overnight and after about 6 months my periods became much lighter. But the fibroids grew back a few years later and at 39 they tried to take out my womb but I wouldn't let them.
Related Question: Can fibroids cause heavy menstrual bleeding?

I was 24 when doctors diagnosed me with multiple uterine fibroids. There were so many and they were so big they thought that they'd have to take out the whole womb. In the meantime my doctor decided to give me Lupron injections for 4 months to try and shrink the tumors. After 4 months I had my surgery and they removed 32 fibroids and they left the really small ones inside. But I kept my uterus. I was lucky to get pregnant without IVF treatment, but it was a painful pregnancy. The fibroids left behind grew extra fast during the pregnancy (one weighed 14 pounds!) and I ending up giving birth to a premature baby boy. There was so much bleeding after the birth they had to perform an emergency hysterectomy. Fortunately both the baby and I are fine now. Ok, so he won’t have a brother or sister, but at least I don't have those awful heavy periods anymore!

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